This summer’s reunion between LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers was definite proof that words and actions can be forgiven and a player can indeed go back to a team where bridges were seemingly burned.
James returned four years after he ran out on the city and the fans that worshiped him while accepting the apology of an owner who had anything but kind words regarding his superstar’s departure.
Back in 2011, Jim Thome returned to the Indians, where his probably Hall of Fame career took flight. This was less than a decade after he left town, heading to Philadelphia for more guaranteed years and money. He now has a statue at Progressive Field and has had his number unofficially retired.
If those two stars can return to Cleveland, maybe another can, as well.
This winter the Indians will likely be looking to add depth and a veteran presence to a young, yet gifted, starting pitching staff. Cleveland management will probably not be looking to break the bank on arm, nor really does it need to. However, a veteran who could come in on a team-friendly deal would do the trick. Perhaps a veteran looking to resurrect a career that recently went off the tracks, a la Kevin Millwood with the Tribe in 2005.
Oddly enough, a guy who may be a perfect fit is somebody the Indians and their fans know quite well. That is Justin Masterson.
The big right-hander spent the second half of 2009 into the first half of 2014 with Cleveland. He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in July as it became apparent the 2013 All-Star was not going to come to a long-term agreement with the Tribe before becoming a free agent this offseason.
At the time of the deal Masterson was having a rough go of things. Cleveland’s Opening Day starter was 4-5 with a 5.51 ERA. However, he had been on the disabled list with a bad right knee and was getting ready to return. The prevailing thought was that having a few weeks to rest would get Masty back to his 2013 form that saw him go 14-10, while posting a strong 3.45 ERA. Instead, he continued to struggle with St. Louis, pitching in nine games and starting six. He was even worse with the Cardinals, turning in numbers of 3-3, 7.04.
To say the least, 2014 was a forgettable year for Masterson. A season that started with such promise turned sour in a hurry. It now feels like an eternity ago, but it was just this past March that contract talks between the Indians and Masterson stalled when the 29-year-old was seeking a reported 3 or 4-year deal, in the range of $17 million per season. The Indians were not willing to part with that much money for a guy who had yet to put together consecutive good seasons. In hind sight, the Tribe made the right move.
It is now unlikely that Masterson will get anything close to what he was looking for just eight months ago. It is not for lack of talent, however. Masterson certainly has the talent to be No. 1 or 2 starter and get paid like one. The problem is it will be tough for any team to justify a long-term, big-money deal for a guy coming off a career-worst season in which he dealt with knee, shoulder and oblique issues.
The best course for Masty to take may be to accept a one-year deal for around $8-$12 million and get his career back on track. At 30, if he can put in a campaign similar to what he did in 2013 or even 2011 when he posted a 3.21 ERA, he still has plenty of time to cash in a lucrative contract somewhere.
This is where the Indians come in. The team can use more arms for the rotation. No. 1 starter Corey Kluber is the only proven commodity. Other starters like Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, T.J. House and Danny Salazar have all proven they can succeed in the big leagues. However, that quartet is young and any one of them could take a step back this year. One or two of them could maybe use some more seasoning on the farm.
The Tribe does not have much of safety net to fall back into, either. Its main sources for rotation depth in 2014 – Zach McAllister – is out of minor league options.
Cleveland needs some depth behind its young hurlers. It would preferably be depth in the form of someone who has had Major League success. However, breaking the bank on an arm is not needed as the Indians do have five starters they like for their future. Someone like Masterson fits that bill perfectly.
This is not to say, of course, that a reunion with Masterson will happen. However, the two a perfect fit for each other – even more so than they were back in July when the trade to St. Louis went down.
As is the case in any contract talks that break down, there is likely some tension between Masterson and the front office. Maybe there isn’t any. If there is, it certainly can be smoothed over. James and Thome have taught us that.
Masterson, at this point, could use a team like the Indians to step in and give him a shot to reprove himself. The Indians could use a starter like Masterson. There is definitely a match – could a short-term reunion follow? Time will tell on that one.
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